Clean-Cut Thug

It's a type. The babied rich brat with Joe College looks combined with a I-didn't-mean-to-do-that attitude when caught red-handed bending rules. It's the type of heel I most love to see get beat up. Trounced. Taught a much-needed lesson. His clock cleaned. Consider it my fantasy payback for the arrogance and greed of the 1%.

Roderick Strong first won me as a fan when he spit in Davey Richards' face a couple of years ago. Strong always looks poised for a wedding picture, even in his silky blue trunks, but right beneath the classy veneer he's a brute and sniveling coward. I like that, by which I mean to say I am irresistibly drawn to this type, excited by it, feeling a strong urge to pounce and pummel.

My senior year in college I was in a play with this guy--virtually poreless skin, pink lips, the face of a Disney cartoon prince. Always in a pressed shirt, silk tie, and form-fitting year-round wool. One evening during a late rehearsal we stepped outside into the cold air. Out of nowhere he says to me, "I know you'd like to take a swing at me. I can see it in your eyes. Go ahead. Punch me." I often say I have no regrets, but honestly there's at least this one: that I did not rough this guy up. He was literally asking for it, and out of a sense of Christian niceness (I was at a religious institution) I let the moment pass. Ah well. But several times I have played the scene out differently in my imagination. Sometimes I convince myself that I actually did bust his mouth.

A couple of days ago I complimented BG East's Beau Nasty for perfecting the same character type. It's the tack I would recommend for Thunder's Arena's Z-Man, too. At his best moments, Z-Man projects a fussy priggishness that suggests he has the potential to be another Roderick Strong. BGE newby Dylon Roberts could probably fill this mold, as well. Trent Novak at Rock Hard Wrestling, ditto--at least he's got the chiseled aristocratic features (to match his chiseled torso). And Aron at UCW could get an $80 haircut and take some notes too.

They would all have a ways to go to match Strong, though. The guy looks full of himself even when he isn't trying. He's a subtler, more believable (thus more antagonizing) version of Gorgeous George's flamboyance or Rick Martel's model gimmick. And he also knows that the real purpose of Chris Hero's long dirty-blond hair is to yank and twist it and drag him across the ring by it. Strong slaps a face with all the impudence of an Italian duelist. He uses the ropes to his advantage and acts all-innocent when the ref calls him on it. And he will spit in Davey Richards' face--that takes a ton of chutzpah--and not just little baby spit, either, but a giant roll of snot-slobber that goes bigsplat. That's class!

Of all the wrestlers I know of, Strong is the one you might most want to take out behind the barn. Anyway, I do.

Check out Scott Finkelstein's terrific photos of last Friday's Ring of Honor show in New York, including many more of Strong and Hero, as well as nearly 2000 fantastic shots of Richards, Cedric Alexander, Eddie Edwards, the Briscoes, Shelton Benjamin, Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly, Kenny King, the Young Bucks, and more.


  1. Clean-cut thug is the perfect description.

  2. I couldn't disagree more with your interpretation of Z-man. While you see a fussy prig you want to punch in the mouth, I see a never-backs-down, take-on-anyone-anywhere archetype. Of course he's also more than a bit of a show off and a trash talker, which seems to make him a heel at his core. But considering that he has put substantially more effort into building his body than all but a handful of wrestlers, a fact which is further heightened by the ubiquity of his images on internet sites and magazines and other videos, his willingness to display it for the fans actually strikes me as humility. Further factor in the reality that he's booked to take a beating most of the time, and that "arrogance" and vanity seems more like heroic nobility. He may be beaten, but he's always unbowed.

    That combination of qualities puts him directly in line with some of the most popular names in all of gay wrestling: Brad Rochelle, Troy Baker, Justin Pierce, Beau Hopkins, Jimmy Royce. All were obviously good looking, exceptionally fit, even exceptionally show-offy at times, but no matter how obvious it was the guy standing across the ring was going to beat the hell out of them, they always stood tall, took it, and came back for more. That's the main type of guy that has disappeared from the gay wrestling scene. No one's a good guy anymore. It's always variations on the most generic high school jock braggart--a character that becomes less realistic over time (as in, it's one thing to be a braggart when a guy is new, it's another when he's lost 10 matches in a row or 40 out of 50). That absence of verisimilitude reflects subjective perspective, imo. Sometimes I look at what's out there now and think, "Wow--whoever put this stuff together is obsessed with what it is to be a real man, and to him a real man is an asshole, especially if that man goes to the gym."

    Beyond that, the problem with emulating a straight wrestling "type" in gay wrestling is that straight wrestling is available for free and gay wrestling costs a mint (50 bucks a video sometimes!). To state the obvious, Beau Nasty, while appealing in his way, never came close to being a best seller or had the fans posting online about how much they were looking forward to his next match. And it's not that people didn't like him; it was if they did, they could get the same thing from Randy Orton or Batista or Rick Rude or even way back to Gorgeous George. Roderick Strong suffers from that--he's good but not as good at what he does as a host of more available alternatives. By contrast, Brad Rochelle, who actually brought Beau to BGE and did 30+ matches to Beau's paltry 5, has gotten a fraction of the praise.

    That's the big difference between gay and straight wrestling. In straight wrestling, a guy outdraws all others, and everyone else falls in line trying to figure out how to tap into that and make it bigger. A guy does that in gay wrestling, and the people who make decisions about what happens next say, change.

  3. These pics are amazingly hot... thanks for posting these, Joe. And kudos to photographer Scott Finkelstein for these awesome shots!
    I have been a fan of Roderick since he first debuted in long tights several years ago. It was a great day when he switched to trunks...
    That last photo of Roderick fighting Chris Hero over the ropes, with Rod’s muscles rippling as he thrashes Hero is worth a thousand words...


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